Some time ago a friend and I got talking about the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) program, and I haven’t gotten it off my mind since. The OLPC program aims to deliver sturdy, low-power, low-cost laptops to children under the age of 12 in developing countries. The visionary of the program, Nicholas Negroponte, wants to introduce these laptops into second-world, rather than third-world, countries. The difference? Second-world countries face poverty and a host of ills, but possess the resources to purchase these notebooks, to feed their people (at some level), and build roads. The OLPC program is not currently aimed at absolutely poverty-stricken nations – those nations have other, more pressing, concerns, and their resources can be allocated to more effectively than by providing affordable laptop computers for children.
The computers are incredibly simple, providing basic computing. What’s important is that they are almost entirely open-source; kids can take them apart and learn about every element of the computers through trial and error. They’re rugged enough (both physically and code-wise) that kids can put them through hell and they’ll keep on going. While the laptops can be charged by plugging the computers into electrical outlets, they can also be powered by converting physical action to electricity – ride a bike attached to the thing and you’ll be able to charge it. The initial roll-out doesn’t have this, but it’s in the overall specs of the project.